Andrey Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was detained on November 25, 2021, while on a bike ride near his home in Minsk. Four unidentified men accompanied him to his home and seized his equipment. Kuznechyk served two consecutive 10-day administrative sentences for “hooliganism.”
On December 23, 2021, Belarusian authorities opened a criminal case against Kuznechyk on unspecified charges. The charges against Kuznechyk were unknown until May 2022, when it was revealed that he had been charged with “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”
On June 8, 2022, Belarusian authorities sentenced Kuznechyk to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was transferred to the Navapolatsk hard labor colony, a place he had previously described as a “town that seems to be farther than Mars.” In August 2022, the Supreme Court of Belarus denied Kuznechyk’s appeal in a closed-door hearing.
Kuznechyk’s case is not an isolated incident. As part of the Lukashenka regime’s larger crackdown on independent media, Belarus’ Interior Ministry added RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, locally known as Radio Svaboda, to its registry of extremist organizations on December 23, 2021. With this move, Belarusians who subscribe to Radio Svaboda online can now face up to six years in prison. Radio Svaboda’s website has been blocked in Belarus since August 21, 2020. The accreditation of all locally based journalists working for foreign media, including RFE/RL, were annulled by the Belarusian authorities in October 2020. Two RFE/RL journalists are currently imprisoned in Belarus. In addition to Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik has been wrongfully detained since June 25, 2020. Both Losik and Kuznechyk are recognized by the Belarusian human rights community as political prisoners. Kuznechyk’s case, along with the growing list of journalists facing persecution in Belarus, underscores the urgent need for continued international attention to safeguard press freedom and human rights in the country.
In 2022, USAGM honored Kuznechyk with its David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award.